The study was based on data from a sample of 839 Australian families who participated in a three-year study called The Family in Australia (TFAI).
The researchers used a combination of questionnaire, interview and case study data to calculate the proportion of children who were male and female.
They found that for males, more children were born to mothers with one or more children, whereas for females, the opposite was true.
This finding is not surprising given that females have a higher risk of childlessness than males and that the average number of children a mother had in the sample was two.
The researchers also found that males and females with one child were significantly less likely to have children later in life.
There was no correlation between the proportion and frequency of boys and girls having the same number of biological children and the number of female children in the family.
The authors say that these findings indicate that there are gender-specific differences in the ways that women cope with childlessness and that children may have different benefits.
They say that gender-neutral policies such as family planning and early childhood education can help to alleviate the pressure on women’s families to balance family life.
In this article The Australian Psychological Society’s chair of child development, Jennifer Beaumont, says that this study does not necessarily mean that mothers are being ‘overly aggressive’ with their babies.
”If there is a particular reason that is causing some distress to the mother, there’s a way of working with that,” she says.
”The research does suggest that mothers should be cautious about how they interact with their children and they should be encouraged to seek support and to try to manage the impact of childcare on the child.”
In a blogpost on The Conversation, psychologist and author Joanna Egan, who co-authored the paper, says it is important to remember that these differences do not appear to be biological.
She says that women are more likely to raise boys than girls and that this may be a function of the ways in which the two sexes have developed different systems for nurturing and disciplining children.
”Our research shows that children are raised differently in boys and in girls because we are looking at the systems they are born into rather than the gender of their parents,” Ms Egan writes.
”They’re just different.
The children are also growing up in a culture that teaches them differently from girls.
That means we need to be really careful about how we talk about gender in relation to our children.”
The authors point out that while the differences are small, they do suggest that the importance of gender-differentiated childcare in relation of child-rearing is lessened by the need for a ‘perfect’ childcare system.
The paper is published in the journal Psychological Science.
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